The sky really is falling and it's like a New Years Eve Party all around. I am dog tired, and world weary.
Bernanke in Denial
by Nomi Prins
The Fed chairman’s speech to the American Economic Association Sunday could be viewed several ways: Ironically, because he was involved in the monetary policies over much of the past decade that stoked the lending fires, yet failed to administer appropriate regulatory constraints over his domain.
But having watched his entire 10-slide presentation (think: Economics 101 with a political twist), I had a different reaction: fear.
My concern is straightforward: Bernanke doesn’t seem to have learned the lessons of the very recent past.
For Bernanke to blame weak regulation for the pyramid of bank-concocted, over-leveraged, high fee-producing assets—real loans mixed with a lot of price-inflating hype—is like a Super Bowl coach blaming coaching in general for the failure of his team to win the Lombardi Trophy. There were $1.4 trillion of subprime loans issued between 2002 and 2007, which became $14 trillion worth of mostly toxic assets, which were used as collateral by the biggest banks to borrow much more.
It would be more honest of Bernanke to put blame where it’s due. Banks did not merely lend predatorily—they pushed, scooped up, repackaged, and resold loans to a frenzied degree. The repackaging of distressed assets, formerly known as “toxic,” is again a top growth area for Wall Street. Meanwhile, risk at the major banks has increased alongside trading revenues, while consumer-oriented activities continue racking up losses. All this Bernanke missed in his speech and by extension, his future strategy.
Instead, he launched into a lengthy academic discussion of the Taylor rule, an equation used to evaluate how much rates should be lowered or raised to maintain a certain inflation target. Defending Fed rate policy, he advocated the “alternative” Taylor rule that considers forecasted rather than current information to determine rates, which he noted was applied properly.
In other words, the Fed did everything right.
While Time magazine and others gave Bernanke credit for supposedly saving the world from a second Great Depression, all he really did (alongside Geithner and former Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson) was feed capital to a capital-starved banking system, hoping it would find its way to the population, with no plan for stabilizing ongoing credit problems, including rising bankruptcies and foreclosures that lie at the economy’s foundation.
Bernanke will power the Fed down the path of the same old mistakes.
Once the Senate confirms him, Bernanke will have to do more than just talk about regulation—he will have to start regulating. Otherwise, all these missed problems will be a horrific legacy, and an expensive lesson not learned for the rest of us.
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